SOME COMMANDMENTS OF LEADERSHIP THAT ONE CAN DRAW FROM M. S. DHONI’S PERFORMANCE, INDIA’S MOST SUCCESSFUL CRICKET CAPTAIN SO FAR
Cricket in India is not merely a game; it’s a religion practised by the entire nation. In that sense, it is truly a unifying force. So it was hardly surprising that people fasted (or ate only specific food items), performed havans, and made all kind of offerings to their Gods to make sure that India lifted the World Cup 2011. Why, even Yuvraj Singh wore a divine totem as a lucky charm. How much did all this contribute towards India’s win on that fateful day of April, is acceptably arguable. But no one – and there is no exception – would dispute the contribution of M. S. Dhoni or MSD or Mahi, the cool commander of the cricket brigade in bringing the glory to us all. Imbued with a positive attitude, he had told Gary Kirsten (the India coach) to keep the champagne ready to be uncorked after the final victory at Mumbai as early as when India had registered a win over Bangladesh. For Dhoni, winning has become a second nature. Ganguly made a belligerent announcement of India’s arrival on the firmament of world’s cricket when he waved his shirt in 2002. But Dhoni’s casual sleeveless tee appearance after the latest triumph declared that India could well repeat these celebrations many more times in future. The leadership provided by unflappable Captain Cool has made all the difference.
Now, he needs to steal some time from his packed schedule and offer leadership lessons to the captains of the Indian industry. A recent survey in India by Harvard Business Publishing says that gaps in leadership pipeline have emerged as the biggest HR challenge. Organisations now are likely to invest nearly 41% of their budget in leadership and management development within their companies. Indubitably, many Indian companies would love to give their left arm to engage MSD as their leadership trainer. Examples are available aplenty in media reports. While K. Ramkumar (ICICI Bank) is all praise for Dhoni’s positive motivational leadership, Santrupt Misra (Aditya Birla Group) appreciates his equanimity & calm composure, and Suvojoy Sengupta (Booz & Co.) likes his trait of leading from the front. Apparently, even IIM-A would like to appoint him as a professor. Until then, and if that happens, can we draw some commandments of leadership from Dhoni’s performance?
WINNING HIGH OCTANE BATTLES
A leader of the caliber of Mahi has a number of traits and multiple tasks to perform, so as to steer his organisation to sustaining successful performance.
Commandment 1: Have a vision & pursue it relentlessly.
Since Dhoni took over in 2007, he has given his team a vision of being top rankers in test cricket and one-dayers. In the match against Pakistan, Shahid Afridi was defensive and tentative but Dhoni was decisive and sharp (Imran Khan’s words, not mine!). Both were under high pressure but Mahi exhibited greater guts. He is always confident about trusting his instincts. He is not afraid to make mistakes and admits them, if he does (as he did, in Mohali). The solidity and intent in him makes him different from the other captains. He is a true visionary.
Commandment 2: Be unafraid to go by gut feel, the intuition.
A leader, then, correctly specifies what needs to be accomplished, and breaks it down into discrete bits. Dhoni has unerring instincts, based on which he takes chances; he wins the impossible gambit more often than not. Despite losing Ganguly and Dravid, because of their poor running between wickets, he still won the series 2-0 in Australia. Only he could have given the untested Joginder Sharma the final over in the T-20 final against Pakistan in 2007. He helps the team focus on the target, breaks it into smaller goals. Dhoni always thinks on his feet being no stickler for obstructing rules. So he promoted himself in the batting order in the final match against Sri Lanka. He takes decisions based on logic applicable at the moment. He does not like to complicate his decision making by entertaining too many counter thoughts.
Commandment 3: Manage with what you have; don’t lament over what you lack.
A great leader like Dhoni knows the strengths of his team well – but understands the weaknesses even better. When he was asked whether he was comfortable playing without Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Dravid during the inaugural T20 Cup, he replied with his characteristic candour: “I play with what I have, not with what I don’t.” The job of a leader is to allocate tasks and resources to the team members in such a way that each one of them knows what is expected of him & understand the importance of his contribution. In Mohali, he told Yuvraj, Raina, & Harbhajan to keep their cool, control the emotional outbursts, and contribute to the best of their abilities. Yuvraj was eventually declared the ‘Man of the Tournament’.
Commandment 4: Be a coach, mentor, and leader to your assets.
Dhoni puts steel into Team India’s spine. He has been able to instil and make the best use of cool aggression of youngsters like Kohli, Raina, and Gambhir. He has always acted like a buffer between his boys and the general public or the media hostilities. Performance was the only thing that mattered. In the end, what saw Team India become world champion was the fact that they were ready and confident that they would win.
Commandant 5: Monitor and control the performance of your resources; keep them on track.
Dhoni went beyond merely motivating them. He made sure that the team players backed each other and did not criticise any member even if he had a hard time in the field. Zaheer bowled frugally, Yuvraj performed to more than justify his reentry, Sehwag stuck to his job of giving India a flying start, while the youngsters made best of all the opportunities which came their way. Since Dhoni knew that his team was prone to distractions during the long gaps between matches, he would remain connected, checking even the daily routine of the players.
Commandment 6: Provide and receive feedback from others. More importantly, ensure that it is acted upon.
While the CWC-2011 was in progress, Dhoni did not mince words when he publicly said that he was concerned about his side’s fitness, which in turn was likely to impact India’s batting and fielding performance. To lessen the demotivating impact, however, he also added that as long as the team won, people would forget these shortcomings. He makes accurate and insightful judgment about people and performances, including that of his own. He openly admitted that he did not assess the Mohali pitch accurately. He candidly accepted that dropping Ashwin for Nehra thus was a mistake.
MAHI DESERVES IT ALL
Harish Mariwala (Marico) says Dhoni is a perfect fit for HR and strategy position, Venugopal Dhoot (Videocon Group) is willing to even make him an Executive Director. And Harish Bijoor thinks that he would be suitable for the position of Head, Internal Branding. Boards of many Indian companies are drawing new and tough rules to link CEO pay with performance, or lack of it. In Dhoni’s case, this year’s package of Rs.77 crore (including endorsement fees) will hardly be grudged by anyone after such a sterling performance. 2010 FIFA World Cup final was viewed by 1.5 million people, IPL-3 by 9.6 million, CWG -2010 opening ceremony attracted eyeballs of 30 million, Budget 2011 was witnessed by 37 million. And the CWC-2011 final? The number swelled to 67.6 million. During the winning moments, the match got a TVR rating of 21.44, breaking all previous records. Dhoni gave reasons to rejoice to all the stakeholders. The legendary tennis player Bjorn Borg used to have a pulse rate of about 50 upon waking up and 60 in the afternoon. One could bet Dhoni’s has never crossed 10 – at least, metaphorically speaking.
“Dhoni has transcended the ranks of captain to become a true leader,” says Imran Khan. While that could be now often heard hyperbole, the truth is, we couldn’t agree more. Dhoni practices a fine blend of transactional and transformational leadership, as mandated by the exigency of the situation. Not dictated by copybook rules of leadership, he adapts his style to the requirements of the game. Of course, he might not be able to sell coffee for nuts – but he’ll be able to instil the fear of God in your salespeople to ensure they perform phenomenally. Now, which company will have a problem with that?